The Telegraph sits down with Sivan Magen
09 April 2014
Who is he?
Virtuoso Israeli harpist Sivan Magen conjures an astonishing range of
colour and dynamic out of what is often thought of as a soft, salon instrument.
Since winning the International Harp Contest in 2006 in Israel, the 34-year-old
has lived in New York, though he's hardly ever there thanks to a busy schedule
of concerto and recital dates. He often returns to Israel for concerts with the
Israeli Chamber Project, which he co-founded.
How did he take up such an unusual instrument?
It's a mystery, because there was no fateful visit to a harp concert,
and no harpists Magen's family. "I just knew I was made for this instrument,"
he says. "Perhaps I was rebelling a little against my parents, who were both
professional cellists. I wanted to play something completely different, but I
couldn't begin my musical studies on the harp, it wasn't practical aged seven.
So I started on the piano. It was just a bit of fun, a way to get to know lots
When I turned to the harp I felt this was something really serious."
What attracted him to it?
"Well, not the ease of it, that's for sure! It's really not a natural
instrument, compared to the piano. It took me a long time to feel close to it.
What I value is the intimate contact with the sound. With the piano there are
keys and hammers between the player and the strings, with the violin there is
the bow. With the harp the sound is made directly with the fingers. I love
Why do we hear so little of the harp as a solo instrument?
Magen thinks this is due to the stereotyped image of the harp. "People
think it is only suited to light salon pieces. In fact it has this incredible
range of sound and colour. It can become very violent in sound, especially in
modern music. There's also a problem with the small repertoire, and I'm trying
to overcome that in two ways. I'm commissioning pieces, and also arranging
pieces for other instruments, like the Brahms piano pieces on my CD. My
ambition is to show what this wonderful instrument is really capable of."